José is a new musical comedy coming to the city as part of Liverpool Fringe Festival. The second play from Leeds-born playwright Adam Ward, the one-act show, opening at the Pilgrim pub next week, is “really a story of how we deal with death and come out of it as a stronger people… mixed into a bizarre puppet-based comedy”, he says.
He describes José as a surrealist comedy with music, following the titular protagonist as he seeks to avenge the death of his donkey/best friend, Sederico.
Thirty-year-old Ward initially moved to Liverpool to study drama at John Moores before returning to Yorkshire to work as a lecturer. “My plan was always to move back to Liverpool at some point and really sink my teeth into making theatre,” he says. “I always had this romantic idea that it was what I was supposed to be doing, so I took the plunge.”
José follows on from the success of his debut piece Long Joan Silver, a sell-out production at the Hope Street Theatre last year. A full-length, full-scale, full-on pirate musical, it left Ward wanting to do “something simpler and stripped back”.
The idea for José is something that has grown over the years. “It was something I originally wrote several years ago, that friends talk about from time to time – it was just something I always enjoyed doing and have fond memories of,” Ward says. “When I heard about Liverpool Fringe, I thought, why not?”
So he set about developing and producing José, in which he also performs alongside Emily McGlynn and Al Bollands. Stage manager Emily Gleaves is also the puppet designer and operator.
The Pilgrim, a cheap and cheerful traditional pub in the city centre, was a good fit for a venue. “I wanted it to have a pub-gig feel to it, as the piece is songs interwoven into scenes,” Ward says.
Ward has been writing musical comedy gags and sketches since his teens, with the character of José beginning life as a short radio play ten years ago – a love of the medium passed down from his dad and inspired by the likes of Kenny Everett, Dudley Moore and Peter Cook. His dedication was such, he says, that he and his guitar were nominated for ‘best couple’ in his final uni year.
Comedy shows incorporating music like Flight of the Conchords and The Mighty Boosh have also been influences, as well as a love of The Simpsons from childhood.
“I just think live music adds so much to a piece,” he says. “If everything is live it just brings much more energy, as well as danger because there’s the chance everything could go wrong, and that’s what makes it exciting.”
There is a heartfelt message in Adam’s work aside from the comedy element. “I feel with anything I write, although they’re often larger than life characters and shows, I like to have an important message and to say something with it.”
Long Joan Silver, he says, touched on themes of gender equality and writing Jose helped him to deal with bereavement.
“I suppose whenever you go through difficult times you use writing or art as a way of getting through that, to an extent that has seeped into the world of Jose, though the initial ideas and storyline were actually from years ago,” he says. “I suppose the story is that of honouring the people you love, particularly when they’re gone and how you become stronger for that experience, as difficult as it may be.
“I think we’re so often afraid to talk about more personal matters and if we can do that through a fun night of theatre and escapism, then we should.“
Adam has collaborated closely with Liverpool Arts Society and Hope Street Theatre on all of his plays so far. “I think what both are doing for up-and-coming companies and artist is second to none,” he says. “The brand of Liverpool Arts Society seems to be growing by the day and they just keep doing bigger and better things.”
The chance to revive and tour both Long Joan Silver and Jose in future is a longer-term aim, and for now, things are looking good.
“It feels as though I’ve come back to Liverpool at the right time, there’s something of a renaissance happening for fringe theatre in the city right now,” Adam says. “I’m just glad to be a part of that in some way, and long may it continue.”
Catch Jose at the Pilgrim (Pilgrim Street) this Thursday and Friday (June 6 & 7). For tickets see the Liverpool Fringe Festival website.
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